Monday, February 20, 2012

Life in a Tree

I know for certain- there is life after death.  At least for large trees.

Once a thriving Sugar Maple in my woods, this towering relic is still a vector for a multitude of life forms both small and large.  Most go unseen. Fungus, slime-molds, tiny spiders and ants populate and colonize the decaying tissues. Wood boring insects, centipedes and beetle grubs enliven the bark layers, creating an irresistible attraction for birds.

 The Sugar Maple:  still a proud harbinger of life, well into decline and decay.

 One favored bird, the White-breasted Nuthatch  runs wildly head-first down the tree.  Caching food for future use and generally adding to the woodland ambiance with his ank-ank-ank or ip-ip-ip calls.  Nuthatches are the only birds able to descend trees in the face-forward postion.  It is all in the toes. Unlike the others woodpeckers' two toes in front, two toes in back arrangement, the nuthatch toes are configured one in back, three forward. The back one is long- and decurved- which allows for the "hanging downward" position.

This towering trunk could also provide a home for the local Screech Owls.  Several broods have been raised in our woodlot and this standing trunk has all the promise of a new condominium.  I'll be watching for the evidence of owl pellets. 

Just as a whale-fall in the ocean provides a unique habitat for a league of species, the "tree-fall" in my yard is worthy of much more study.

To learn more about habitats found in your own back yard, join us on March 3rd at Muskingham Valley Gardeners'  "Spring Fever" Home Gardening Symposium.  You can find all the details HERE.


  1. Do you have genuine slime molds? When I worked at Acadia we searched all over and at that time, couldn't find any. Think we'd be likely to find any here in the Oaks?

  2. Hi Ranger Anna!
    We do have some slime molds about- for example the Dog Vomit Fungus- is actually a slime mold. I know little of these things, but here is a decent link:

  3. When I worked with cubs a tree like this was called "MacFood."

  4. I popped over from Red's blog! Beautiful birds.
    I spotted an owl the other day, it flew away - no photo! But a delight all the same.
    Cheers from Cottage Country!